Signed to City Slang and DFA Records, influenced by everything from indie, krautrock and folk to psychedelic funk, electronica and reggae, Ahmed Gallab is that most modern kind of musician. Recording as Sinkane, he's impossible to pigeonhole, but his kaleidoscopic debut album 'Mean Love' is a beguiling patchwork of styles, sewn together with fluid, effortless panache and his lush croon. First single 'How We Be', is a synth-laden loping folk funk caper, pitched somewhere between Cymande, The Congos and David Crosby, while the dubwise 'Young Trouble' sets skanking bass against countrified guitar twangs.
It's a global affair, influenced as much by the US and Jamaica as it is by the greatest sounds to emanate from Africa. Which is no great surprise, being that Ahmed is Sudanese by birth, and has been instrumental in setting up the live band project Atomic Bomb: the Music of William Onyeabor as its musical director. That endeavour has seen him bring the music of reclusive Nigerian synth funk maverick Onyeabor to a new generation of fans, alongside the likes of Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor.
Ahmed is a great lover of African music in all its manifold forms, so DJ Mag asked him to recommend us his top 10 albums or tracks to have sprung from the continent. Read on to gain an insight into his diverse influences...
1. Batsumi 'Batsumi'
“I found this record in a dusty record store in Buenos Aires a few years ago. Batsumi were a band from South Africa and their sound, still, sounds like nothing that has come out of Africa. A mix of local flavours with meandering, beautiful flute and saxophone accompanied by funky Sunday afternoon chill rhythms, this has been my favourite music since I discovered it. What I love the most is how the two vocalists harmonise with each other. Their voices sound like they swim through the songs.”
2. Miriam Makeba 'Pata Pata'
“My mother would play Miriam Makeba in the house while I was growing up, so this record in particular holds a special place in my heart. Her voice is so powerful. It's no wonder she was such a strong political figure in South African history. The music is uplifting and the grooves will make even the most ornery person get up and dance.”
3. The Witch 'Lazy Bones!!'
“I was introduced to this record by my friend Kelly Morgan in 2007. In those days you could find a blog that served as a gold mine and black hole into some of the most amazing lost gems in music history. 'Lazy Bones!!' was my introduction to Zambian psych rock. This band is like the African Can. This record helped me realise the similarities in a lot of the different musics that I listened to and, ultimately, the music that became the DNA of Sinkane.”
4. Amanaz 'Africa'
“Soon after I heard The Witch I started touring with Caribou. Ryan Smith put me on to this album from Amanaz (Another Zambian group). Similar in sentiment but a bit more melodic. There are a few slow burners on this record that really spoke to me. The songs almost carry this fresh singer/songwriter aesthetic to them that I hadn't heard from other African bands. They don't always rely on the groove. The melodies carry the songs throughout the record and the weight of the vocalist's emotional delivery really draws you into the music.”
5. Chrissy Zebby Tembo 'My Ancestors'
“I always tell people that Chrissy Zebby Tembo's 'My Ancestors' sounds like the black Deep Purple record. This record absolutely slays. It sounds like an African psych metal band playing underwater. I wish I could have seen this guy play live with his band because I'm sure it was really loud and absolutely punishing.”
6. Various 'World Psychedelic Classics Vol. III: Love Is A Real Thing'
“This is the compilation that introduced me to William Onyeabor. When I heard his song 'Better Change Your Mind' from this compilation I thought, 'THIS IS ALL I WANT TO HEAR ALL THE TIME!' It was a fusion of African, soul, and funk. But it seemed to transcend all of that and stood alone as a unique piece of music. Other tracks on the album reminded me a lot of James Brown and Stax records filtered through African grooves. It was such an eye-opening record for me.”
7. Wally Badarou 'Echoes'
“Synth lord, spaced-out, mind-melting music from Wally Badarou. This album inspired me to dig deeper into electronics and showed me how an African mind could bring the idea of ambient and electronic music to Africa and then take it even farther out into space and create his own world out of it. At times it reminds me of early Brian Eno or Cluster records, but then the heavy African melodies take over and turn into something else altogether. A great example is the song 'Jungle'. It starts as an ambient soundscape and slowly turns into a hype African groove accompanied by super dense synths repeating a very uplifting mantra.”
8. Salah Ragab Jazz Band 'Ramadan In Space Time'
“I guess this isn't so much funky as it is spiritual and jazzy. I was introduced to this album by Dan Snaith. I was instantly sold by the title of the album, but that was the tip of the iceberg. The music draws from traditional Egyptian and religious music but infuses jazz into the music to create a cosmic African vibe similar to Sun Ra.”
9. Iftin 'Iftin'
“I don't have an Iftin record but rather a lot of their songs. This Somali band's sound is a blend of Somalian, Ethiopian and Sudanese music. Syncopated rhythms and rich-sounding melodies that sound both uplifting and heavy. The synth sounds are interesting. They sound like they're replacing the sound of horns at times. Almost as if they used whatever resources they had to make a sound that they wish they had. The vocals are also very interesting. They sound really dramatic and sexy. I drew a lot of influence from this music for 'Mean Love'.”
10. N'Draman Blinch 'Cikamelé'
“I really don't know much about this record. Some people say that it was produced by William Onyeabor. Which would make a lot of sense because a lot of the sounds and vibe feel similar to Onyeabor's. Specifically the synths and production. The melodies are very tropical-sounding but some of the synth tones sound a bit sinister. Was this a sick joke Onyeabor was playing on the listener? Who knows? The vibe is so hypnotic and the synth playing is so awesome.”